Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: Joan of Arc - Flowers (* * * 1/2)

In one form or another, Tim Kinsella has been making music with his band, Joan of Arc, for over ten years now. The only truly permanent member, Kinsella is as prolific as he is restless, constantly crafting music that stands apart not only from other indie rock acts, but from his own catalog as well. His latest release with Joan of Arc, Flowers, finds him on an especially experimental kick, mashing together abstract instrumentals with more approachable pop song structures in a consistently surprising batch of tunes that never quite coalesces as an album but includes some impressive musical exploration just the same.

With a great deal of help from his friends, Kinsella brings his songs to life using an almost innumerable amount of instruments including strings, synths, guitars, piano, and others I probably don't recognize. Songs range fr0m the subtle electro-rock of opener "Fogbow" to sparse orchestral mood pieces like "Fable of the Elements" and often incorporate several styles in one track. Though I usually prefer my indie rock to be of a slightly more straightforward nature, the best tunes on Flowers are those that are less immediate. The meandering instrumental title track is simultaneously intriguing and enjoyable and the equally lengthy and abstract "Tsunshine" similarly impresses with some fantastic guitar work and Kinsella's quavering vocals. Even the brief and seemingly less consequential tunes like the unfortunately-titled "Delicious Herbal Laxative" and the lovely closer "The Sun Rose" sound inspired and expressive.

When the songs ARE more direct, the results are mixed - not because the songs themselves are of poor quality, but because they occasionally distract from the record's subtle energy. Still, despite a couple of less than spectacular pop tunes, Flowers is another delightfully odd journey through Kinsella's unique and ever-changing musical world. The musicianship and the wealth of ideas here make this an album suited to those who prefer their music on the more 'artistic' side or anybody just looking for a pleasant trip off the beaten path.

Hear some tunes on the band's MySpace